Amanda Patton on “Gender and the Garden World” by Anne Wareham

March 1, 2008

in Uncategorized

Comments on Anne Wareham’s article on gender and the garden world

I recently attended a meeting between designers and members of the Association of Professional Landscapers.  During the meeting, I commented to the group that I was surprised to find that all the designers were women and all the landscapers men, and in answer one of the designers said, “well you know why that is, don’t you?  Designers don’t earn enough to be able to support themselves.”

I have to confess I was shocked by the comment (and I disagreed) but after reading Andrew Wilson’s thoughts I fear this attitude, among women in particular, is more widespread than I realised.

I wonder if there is more that could be done through education to rectify these attitudes?  My own experience of a Textile Design degree in the early 1980s primed me for working as a freelance designer and successful businesswoman.  Along with the art training and time for self-development were lectures from solicitors and accountants on running your own business.  In addition to full-time tutors we also had part-time tutors who worked ‘in the real world’, and we were encouraged to learn what we could from them. Following my degree I worked as an illustrator, setting up on my own in 1988 and founding my garden design practice at the beginning of 2000.  My business is 20 years old this autumn and I thank my college for the grounding it gave me.

When your mindset is that you run a business (as opposed to making money from your hobby, or even ‘being freelance’) you do all that running a business entails, including product recognition (getting your name known), staying ahead of the competition (qualifications and professional awards) and business strategies (how to earn what you want to earn from the business).  At this same landscaper/designer meeting I suggested that all professional designers should become Registered Members of the Society of Garden Designers, but the response from the above mentioned participant was “but isn’t it terribly expensive?”  As an individual, she may have thought the (not very high) cost of Membership to be a lot of money, but as a business she should have seen it as an investment, not a cost.

Too many people go into garden design because they love plants, rather than because they love design. Garden design is about manipulating space and affecting how people feel when using the space because of these manipulations. The elements at our disposal to create these manipulations are exciting for being both static and living, enabling one to create a dynamic totally unlike any other field of design. Many garden design courses don’t seem to understand this basic premise of garden design, thinking, as their potential students do, that gardens are just about plants. Many of the tutors have a horticultural background rather than an art and design background, with no business experience either, having worked in education all their lives.  I have known of colleges where ‘good’ students go back to teach at these colleges, perpetuating a cycle of mediocre design. And while many courses are a year long, in practice this is one day a week for three 10-week terms – ie 30 days.  Given these limitations, we cannot possibly expect students to leave education with the necessary skills.

Perhaps we need to be more honest with potential students about what the job of garden designer is all about, even at the risk of losing students, and perhaps we should be more aggressive within those courses of giving the students the information from which they can go on to run successful businesses. And perhaps a lesser course of ‘garden enhancement’ could be offered for those colleges who don’t wish to change their prospectus or their staff, or who wish to cater for the hobbyist, leaving the courses for ‘garden designers’ for those who wish to make a career of it.

Amanda Patton

Amanda Patton’s website

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